PLOTT: Expelling work, embracing entitlement

While I’m proud to call Alabama my home state, I can’t help but feel increasingly unnerved by the recent events brought on by HB56, Alabama’s immigration law, which surpasses even Arizona’s in its specificity and ramifications. As the harmful consequences of this law materialize, Gov. Robert Bentley and all other Republicans — myself included — must step back and observe the bigger picture. Laws of this kind look nice on paper, but unfortunately represent a fundamental ignorance of the American reality.

Perhaps the greatest recent accomplishment of Alabama is its ability to call itself home to the only Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant in the United States. On Nov. 16, however, this relationship was stunted when a visiting Mercedes executive was arrested for not carrying appropriate documentation of citizenship after a routine traffic violation. Though much apology from Alabama officials quickly ensued, the incident was damning, only feeding the growing sentiment that HB56 is destroying Alabama’s reputation as a credible place to conduct business. The company’s 1993 decision to establish itself in Alabama encouraged Hyundai, Honda and Toyota to follow suit, creating unprecedented job growth and economic prosperity within the region. To risk ties with the very foundation of Alabama’s industrial success is just plain irresponsible.

Other consequences have been less glamorous. As working illegal immigrants have fled the state, Alabama has witnessed the vacating of close to 3,000 construction positions in one month. Contractors and landscapers are no longer able to quote prices 60 days prior to a job, because the workforce availability is now unpredictable. The agriculture industry is in shambles, with the highest-grossing vegetable farms closing their doors, some with generations of production behind their names. Brian Cash, an Alabama tomato farmer, summed it up this way: “Tomato production contributes $1.6 billion a year to the state’s economy, but without immigrant labor, that money will disappear.”

HB56 is accomplishing what it promised, however. More and more jobs are being freed up for Alabamians.

But what happens when unemployed citizens don’t want those jobs? The law represents a stark disconnect between the ideal and the reality. At first glance, it seems logical: through strict measures, prevent all hiring of illegal immigrants, thereby disincentivizing the reasons to cross over in the first place, providing more jobs for Alabamians. In a perfect world, this solution is spot-on. But Alabama officials have failed to recognize the post-FDR America in which we live: one held up by the perpetual crutch of the welfare state.

Unfortunately, we reside in a society in which a false sense of entitlement reigns, only amplified by Barack Obama’s presidency. Through Obama’s $1.3 trillion welfare package, our country has seen the greatest growth of the welfare state in its 235 years, making even Lyndon Johnson look soft. We no longer expect happiness to require pursuit; today, we think our success and happiness are our birthright.

Illegal immigrants do not carry this mentality. They do not share our cushion of benefits, and thus find no qualms with picking Brian Cash’s tomatoes if it means they have food on the table the next evening.

If we didn’t have such an engrained sense of entitlement, would unemployed Americans feel the same way? On another note, is welfare the better option? Under this system, an American can fulfill his or her daily needs with government handouts only slightly less than the minimum wage. Truly, why should one enter into the arduousness of field labor if the aforementioned holds consistently true? In this way, the welfare system puts a threshold on personal responsibility. This is why Brian Cash now sees an empty field outside his window.

The larger question of promoting the American workforce while at the same time discouraging illegal immigration is fundamental. I don’t claim to know the answer to this. I do know, however, that the root of the problem is not what HB56 claims it to be. In Alabama especially, undocumented workers are at the productive core of our prosperity. Does this mean Alabama’s illegal immigration problem should then be ignored? Certainly not. But imposing draconian measures to eliminate the illegal presence will not solve Alabama’s unemployment statistic; these workers simply lack the sense of entitlement that Americans now possess so naturally. Until steps are taken to correct the latter, I’m not sure this overarching question can even be approached.

To target illegal immigrants as the crux of Alabama’s ever-increasing unemployment numbers is simply unjust. The Supreme Court has already struck down parts of HB56, and with its harmful repercussions becoming increasingly manifest, the rest can’t be far off.

Elaina Plott is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at elaina.plott@yale.edu.

Comments

  • redman

    Supply and demand will cause the wages paid for the work that illegals did cheaply, to rise, making those jobs more attractive to unemployed Americans.

  • ldffly

    The production of what are known as truck vegetables has lagged behind the rest of American agriculture in its use of machinery. The tomato farmer referenced should have engaged in mechanizing the picking of green tomatoes years ago. The reason this didn’t happen is that he and others had a cheap supply of migrant labor, therefore the replacement of labor by capital didn’t occur, capital being more expensive. Maybe now with labor becoming more expensive that long overdue development will occur.

    I agree with you that today’s America does have an entitlement mentality, individuals and business alike. However, dig into the stats. The illegal aliens, from nearly all lands, pick that attitude up very quickly. It’s become like a virus.

  • River_Tam

    Ann Coulter would be ashamed.

    • commonmanbob

      Ann Coulter SHOULD be ashamed :)

  • edm2012

    I agree with most of the article, except the part that says: “Under this system, an American can fulfill his or her daily needs with government handouts only slightly less than the minimum wage.”

    No, they can’t.

    Do you know how much a person on welfare gets/per month?

    Do you know how much a person on SS gets/per month?

    Not much, honey, you couldn’t live on about $500/month, and neither can they.

  • kingsofyale2

    oh the joys of freshman year mumbo jumbo

    • eli2015

      It seems like a theme in the YDN comments section to point out whenever the writer is a freshman

      • MapleLeaf14

        very true

  • bcrosby

    Maybe rather than haranguing Alabama’s poor for a “sense of entitlement,” we should be asking why pay and working conditions for many of these jobs are evidently so awful that only undocumented immigrants will take them? Just a thought.

    • desch

      agreed.

    • drgoodie

      A big part of the problem:

      the companies below that instead of paying taxes to the federal government, were actually getting money back.

      For tax years 2008, 2009, and 2010:
      (in dollars of course)
      Honeywell profits: 4.9 billion; taxes paid –34 million
      FedEx profits: 3 billion; taxes paid –23 million
      Wells Fargo profits: 49 billion; taxes paid – 682 million
      Boeing profits: 9.7 billion; taxeas paid – 178 million
      Verizon profits: 32.5 billion; taxes paid – 951 million
      Dupont profits: 2.1 billion; taxes paid –72 million
      American Electric Power profits: 5.89 billion; taxes paid –545 million
      General Electric profits: 7.7 billion; taxes paid –4.7 billion (yes, billion)

      Republicans bemoan the “highest corporate tax rate” among developed countries of 35%. The average paid is actually around 18%.

      Already, the top 20 percent of all income earners in the United States pay approximately 86 percent of all federal income taxes.

      Don’t increase taxes on the rich. Make corporations pay a reasonable tax.

      Don’t continue increasing the number of Americans who are on food stamps. Increase the minimum wage and start valuing the wage earners more.

      The 2010 Census shows the median household income in 2010 was $49,445, only a $333 increase, or 0.7 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1996.

      From postwar through 2000, 20.8% of real GDI growth went to corporate profit and 48.7% to wages and salaries. Since then, 61% has gone to corporate profit and 16.4% to wages and salaries. For the six quarters ending in 2010, 88% went to corporate profits while 1% went to wage earners.

      This is not capitalism. It is now called “corporatism.”

  • eecmmngs

    First paragraph: I agree with the first part. This law has caused serious harm to local farmers, who have lost a great part of their income from crops simply rotting in fields as there are no immigrants left to pick them, and we need to assess the potential damage of our laws more accurately, especially when they are not based in economic policy but in social views. I disagree with your last statement (that the law is “nice in paper”) because, let’s face it, either the regional government was ignorant of the amount of labor provided by undocumented workers, was ignorant of the harsh working conditions they were experiencing (directly quotes from Alabama farmers, “they can’t take the hours, and honestly, they can’t take the heat” and “the Americans aren’t gonna get out in the heat and work, they aren’t gonna bend their back all day long, and…they’re not as hard workers as the Hispanics.”) or thought that passing this law symbolically was more important than either of those. The “paper” obviously did not include any statistics or projections of what might happen after the law was passed or did not take them into sufficient account, and I do not think that ignorance “looks nice”. I’m not sure what the American reality is, however.
    Second paragraph: There is something fundamentally wrong with selective enforcement of laws, as I’m sure everyone here will agree. This law has come under fire, like the Arizona one, for being essentially racist, but I’m willing to ignore that for now. What you implicitly approve of here is enforcement of laws based on wealth and status, such that it is possible to buy your way out of legal obligations. The fact that the Alabaman government actually apologized to this Mercedes-Benz executive shows either that the law should not be enforced or that the government is being inconsistent based on wealth. You say that it irresponsible to risk the foundation of Alabama’s industrial success, which means that it was irresponsible to enforce the law against someone who was not properly documented, which means that it is irresponsible to enforce the law against someone to whom it actually applies. Alternatively: it is irresponsible to risk the foundation of Alabama’s industrial success, which means that risking one of Alabama’s most important sources of income, farming, is irresponsible, which means that it is irresponsible to attempt to deport the force that allows farming to continue, which means that it is irresponsible to enforce the law against those to whom it was intended to apply (undocumented workers).
    Third paragraph: All correct, except that the total number of immigrants that have fled is closer to 100,000 than the 3,000 used as your representative statistic (the only assumption that I have made is that the number of jobs created over the time period you reference is equal to the number of jobs vacated by immigrants, which is, according to WHTC, pegged at around 75,000 to 160,000 by supporters of the legislation).

  • eecmmngs

    There is no factual inaccuracy here, just a misrepresentation. You also fail to mention that the workforce being “unpredictable” means that part of the workforce has been replaced by what are essentially chain gangs in one scenario, and not being replaced at all in another scenario (see first paragraph, where I mention farmers’ criticisms of American workers. That stems from lack of work).
    Fourth paragraph: I now realize my mistake in using the pseudo-adjective “Alabaman” instead of “Alabamian”, but do not want to correct it so as to have something to say about this “paragraph”. Actually, I’d like to add that if there are people willing to work such hours for such wages (high and low respectively) in Alabama, there are also those people in neighboring states. So the jobs are really opening for literally anyone who can get there and is willing to work. Not that anyone is willing to work those jobs, as evidenced by the farmer’s comment that I mentioned earlier.
    Fifth Paragraph: You will never be able to disincentivize crossing over in the first place until the working conditions and wages in Mexico are comparable to those in the U.S. That is the reason why immigrants come over in the first place; not all laws are absolutely enforceable, and the mindset of Mexicans crossing over illegally (“I need to feed my family”) is a greater incentive than “it’s illegal for people to sell me things or employ me”. It’s illegal to sell drugs, yet Latin America cartels currently dominate border areas and have spread as far north as New York City. Conversely, as long as immigrants are willing to work for a certain amount, call it x, less than Alabam*I*ans, they will continue to get jobs that Alabamians either would not work or are not equipped to work (the farmer I mentioned earlier also said that the Mexican immigrants are simply better at performing the jobs required of them than the local workers). That x is proportional to the additional profit that farmers have when they employ illegal immigrants, which is bounded below by the average wage in Mexico for someone of the average undocumented worker’s skillset and bounded above by the lowest wage local workers are willing to take, and inversely proportional to the fines they might incur from employing undocumented workers vs. local workers (but directly proportional to the frequency at which the law is enforced, which, judging by the case of the executive, may be low). This whole “post-FDR America” thing is really starting to get old, especially when it’s brought into places it doesn’t belong.

  • eecmmngs

    Paragraph six: The sense of entitlement is obviously not false, as entitlements exist. “Barack Obama’s Presidency” is a very broad concept to pit “entitlements” on, especially considering what Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan did to keep entitlements alive (most notably in the case of Social Security). The claim that Obama’s administration has overseen the greatest increase in entitlements in the nation’s history is just false. I’d like you to source that, if you can, especially against a political fact-checker such as politifact or factcheck. Your last sentence implies that “entitlements” somehow “give out” “happiness”, invoking the Declaration of Independence by saying that “happiness” does no longer require” pursuit. I have no idea how entitlements are relevant to whether or not happiness is pursuit-based, but I’d say that anything that makes happiness easier to achieve is better. In fact, I’d go further and say that that is in no way related to entitlements.
    Paragraph seven: You’re right that life in, say, Mexico is statistically worse than life in, say, California (hence immigration).
    Paragraph eight: Your first sentence seems sort of like saying, “if standards of living were worse in the U.S., would we accept worse standards of living?” to which the answer is obviously yes. As a commenter above me pointed out, your mathematics are a little skewed. After exactly 15 seconds of Googling, the first pertinent hit (the first actual hit told you where to call if you wanted welfare, food, shelters, etc.) said that the average American getting benefits from both AFDC and food stamps made about 75% of an American working a full-time job, which is less than working a full-time job. The story is different for people with disabilities, who have special benefits and to whom I think your argument applies, but for the average American your nonexistent statistics are incorrect.

  • eecmmngs

    Paragraph nine: Undocumented workers are the “productive core of [Alabama’s] prosperity] but also a “problem”. So the productive core of Alabama’s prosperity is a problem? I realize that you may not be referring to the same undocumented immigrants in your two statements, but, again, legally that would mean selectively enforcing any immigration law. Also, the reason that (to take an example) Mexican immigrants are willing to work here is because their quality of life and the quality of life of their families is better when they take higher-wage jobs here. The reason Alabamians aren’t willing to work such low wages is because the working conditions are horrible and wages are below minimum and thus illegal. To “close that gap”, we have a few options: elevate Mexico’s standard of living to ours, which is not a politically relevant argument; or bring our standards of living down to those of Mexico, so American workers would be willing to work the same jobs. I happen to think the latter option defeats the purpose of establishing a government in the first place. Decreasing unemployment in Alabama, also, is not affected solely by some lack of work ethic, as 1)we are in a recession and 2)there is always unemployment.
    Paragraph ten: Unrelated to your main point, as its message is that HB56 was a bad law, but I agree with that.

    I think the main problem with this essay is the assumption that Americans can make more money not working than working. That’s mathematically incorrect unless you happen to be disabled enough to have other services provided to you (e.g. people to help you bathe and clothe yourself, meals brought to your door, etc.) in which case making those people work in the field to somehow earn their way seems, to me, to be fundamentally wrong. The reason people aren’t willing to work the jobs vacated by undocumented workers is then not that they can make more money doing nothing (this may be a coincidence, but it doesn’t count if the wage they would receive would be illegal); it’s that the working conditions are incredibly harsh, the wages are low, and the work, quite frankly, is disgusting and dehumanizing. I have in mind working full-time in a slaughterhouse.

  • RexMottram08

    Yikes…

    It’s the YDN comment board, folks. Not an essay.

    PS- Free markets > closed markets. Labor is a market.

  • Frashizzle

    The reason that the labor market is closed is because the market wage for proletariat labor is unsustainable. I guess many of you want the government to look-the-other-way, though, and serve the bourgeoisie instead of the working class. … Also, I love the ‘Americans aren’t willing to work for these wages’ argument because it’s so short-sighted I honestly can’t believe someone would actually make it (it’s supply and demand; if Americans won’t work for a given wage, then the equilibrium wage must rise, silly). It’s especially funny to hear it made in the same breath as an argument about the efficiency of free markets. … The main point is this: if you want the US government to look-the-other-way on illegal immigration and DIRECTLY harm the American working class to help noncitizens and INDIRECTLY help the American bourgeoisie, then so be it. Freedom means that you’re entitled to your opinion. But FOR THE SAKE OF FACTUAL ACCURACY, pull your head out of… well, you know where… and recognize what your argument means for the America working class. Illegal immigration is not a win-win from a humanitarian perspective; it’s a win-lose (and the only way to slow illegal immigration is the legitimate threat of deportation).

    PS. I’m a very liberal democrat… I just happen to think that economic implications are important for policy decisions.

    • RexMottram08

      1) Control the border
      2) Unlimited documented immigration
      3) Grace period for current illegals to become legal
      4) Start deporting all criminal immigrants, fine those who have simply failed to register.

    • River_Tam

      > PS. I’m a very liberal democrat… I just happen to think that economic implications are important for policy decisions.

      You might not be a liberal democrat if you believe that.

  • commonmanbob

    Steven Colbert hit the nail on the head when he told Congress “We need to breed vegetables that pick themselves.”

  • commonmanbob

    Steven Colbert hit the nail on the head when he told Congress “We need to breed vegetables that pick themselves.”

  • desch

    While I would probably not agree with Plott on many other things, it is good to see that other recognize the severe effects of these laws on states like Alabama and Arizona. At least we have somewhere that we can begin a real discussion about comprehensive immigration reform.

    • Frashizzle

      I don’t like the phrasing of your last sentence. The laws passed in Alabama and Arizona have the effect of quelling illegal immigration. In practice, were such a law passed at the federal level, it should have similar economic effects as reformation of the immigration system to extend documentation to all migrant workers. The fact that you don’t like the implications of the law doesn’t mean that it was passed thoughtlessly or without “real” discourse.